July 29, 2020

Defying national trend, UW Health performed more heart transplants during pandemic

Madison, Wis. — As hospitals across the country prepared for a surge of COVID-19 cases, there was a significant decline in the volume of surgeries and other medical procedures, and heart transplants were no exception.

But that wasn’t the story at UW Health, where the volumes of new patient evaluations, additions to the heart transplant waiting list, and heart transplants performed were the same as or better than a year earlier.

According to a new study in the cardiology section of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), heart transplant programs around the country were challenged during the first two months of the pandemic, balancing patient and staff safety with reduced hospital resources, including capacity in intensive care units. As a result, many programs were forced to deactivate patients on waiting lists so they could reserve active status for those patients with the greatest illness severity, leading to a 25 percent reduction in transplants being performed nationally during this time. UW Health was one of the few exceptions.  

“Because Wisconsin fared relatively well compared to other parts of the country, we’ve been able to maintain our usual workload throughout the pandemic,” said Dr. Amy Fiedler, heart transplant surgeon at UW Health. “Our program’s leadership and staff have worked tirelessly to ensure patients could be safely evaluated and added to the transplant list if needed, and that those already on the list could receive the gift of life when the opportunity arose.”

Between mid-March and mid-May, UW Health surgeons performed nine heart transplants and added an additional 10 people to the heart transplant waiting list. Additionally, the median time to transplant for patients on the heart transplant waiting list decreased from 51 days during the first six months of 2019 to just 11 days for the first six months of 2020.

Video: UW Health's Heart Transplant Program

Defying national trend, UW Health performed more heart transplants during pandemic